Who, Indeed

In a recent Washington Post column, Richard Cohen asks intriguing questions about President Obama, “Who is this guy? What are his core beliefs? “Unfortunately, too many people are now asking these questions. But, it might be a little late.

The time to understand a person and his beliefs is before he is elected to the highest office in the country. But, during the 2008 election, too many people were thrilled with the idea of “hope and change” or the chance to “redeem America” by voting for an African-American President.

In a time when the country desperately needed balanced coverage of the situation there was none. Mr. Cohen’s colleagues at The Washington Post and the affiliated magazine, Newsweek, were among the biggest cheerleaders for Obama. The coverage of Mr. Obama was more like hagiography.

Sean Hannity, on a network which called itself “fair and balanced” was raising names like Bill Ayers, Bernardine¬†Dohrn, the “Weather Underground” and talking about the Obama’s church and a Rev. Wright. But, except for a small flurry caused by some video of Wright, there apparently wasn’t much to talk about.

Newsweek led the rally. In 2009, it told us “We’re All Socialists Now” and spoke of Mr. Obama as above it all in some God-like manner.

In the prior election cycle, Bush and Kerry released their undergraduate transcripts. Obama apparently attended Occidental College, Columbia University and Harvard Law School but no transcripts have been released. He was editor of the Harvard Law review but where is the analysis of his writings or positions?

Even more important is the complete silence on the part of the major media about his refusal to release the information. Those on the right see a bias in the media, a willingness to give Obama a “pass” they would never give to, say, Sarah Palin.

An article in The Economist magazine made the argument that newspapers and magazines don’t succeed based on their telling the truth. Instead, they make money by identifying a target audience and telling them what they want to hear. This seems to be that strategy of major media. Instead of “All the news that fits we print” it has become “All the news that fits your preconceptions.”

When the Vietnam War was raging, I worked on my college newspaper. I remember the insular attitude we shared. There was one conservative who would drop off his opinion pieces. But, in general we were all somewhat liberal. We had discussions about how the vast majority of the students were more concerned about football games and dating than about the “great issues” of the day.

This is the insularity I see in the major newspapers today. Racial or gender diversity seem to be more important than the contest of ideas. Apparently there was a time when great issues were debated in opposing newspaper columns.

Now, it seems that anyone who would disturb the peace at a fashionable cocktail party is relegated to “other” papers and magazines. When authors like Thomas Sowell, Michael Barone and The former Baltimore Sun columnist Gregory Kane are no longer regularly in the main papers, what, exactly is the range of allowable commentary?

Although some people argue that Fox News doesn’t live up to its slogans, those slogans are appealing. “Fair and balanced” reporting where “we report, you decide” is something people are looking for.

The world is getting more complicated, and more dangerous, by the day. Financial, military and environmental questions abound. The stuff “we all know” and agree on is likely to be totally useless in the next few years. In times of turmoil and uncertainty, papers which merely echo the consensus are pointless.

The country needs a full debate on a wide variety of issues. We do ourselves a great disservice when we exclude one view or another because it makes us uncomfortable. It is likely we are in this fix because, for too long, we have been too certain of our path. We stopped looking for reasons to question what we were doing and we didn’t want to hear views that disturbed our peace.

We can’t afford media that merely look to tell a target audience what they want to hear. Media reputations in the next few years will be made and lost on how effectively they prepare their readers for what is coming. Complex times require truth, not pandering. Where, then, can we find a news source with a true desire to convey the truth?


  1. Good points, Dale- but the question becomes, is it too late to make changes? There is certainly the public cry to kick them all out in November, and I don’t think he’s going to get 8, but there is so much damage that can be done in 4 years! I have wondered to myself a few times if the ways we feel now is similar to the way Germans or Russians must have felt as socialist and communist ideas took over their countries. Did they feel powerless to stop the course they could see was coming? It did not lead either country to the utopian ending proponents expected or hoped for (as we’ve seen) – and I fear that our own country will be similarly affected by the time it’s all over. But then, we came back from Carter – perhaps there is hope for us yet.

  2. Amen! When do we get some journalistic remove and lack of bias in our coverage? Whatever happened to, “just the facts, ma’am?”

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